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technology | IST

"Trying to teach Alexa, Malayalam", says Amazon CTO Werner Vogels

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It doesn’t take a tech geek to realise that Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant, Alexa, could be the future of digital systems, across the world. In fact, the company’s chief technology officer (CTO), Werner Vogels, believes the interface will turn the smart-phone near-redundant. CNBC-TV18 has learnt that Amazon is currently in the process of training Alexa to speak in a number of Indian languages, aside of Hindi. But Vogels admits that’s easier said than done.

It doesn’t take a tech geek to realise that Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant, Alexa, could be the future of digital systems, across the world. In fact, the company’s chief technology officer (CTO), Werner Vogels, believes the interface will turn the smart-phone near-redundant.
"Nearly 20 automobile manufacturers are looking to use Alexa in their cars," said Vogels, in an exclusive interview with CNBC-TV18, at Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent conference, in Las Vegas, “Alexa and Echo devices are proof that use of voice could negate the use of a smart-phone.”
CNBC-TV18 has learnt that Amazon is currently in the process of training Alexa to speak in a number of Indian languages, aside of Hindi. But Vogels admits that’s easier said than done.
“We are trying to understand how to provide Alexa support in Hindi and now, Malayalam,” he said, “But Indian language support is a challenge since these languages as a concept, are different from Western languages.”
‘Mumbai, Our India Base’
In India, Amazon Internet Services Private Limited (re-seller of AWS) registered prolific growth, this year. The company reported revenues of Rs 1,235.4 crore in FY18 — nearly triple its Rs 411,1 crore revenue last year.
“The Indian customer base on AWS grew by 70 percent in the first six to nine months this year,” said Vogels, reflecting on the company’s great year in India. “We plan to establish our data centers in Mumbai, to connect easily with other parts of the country,” he added.
Post-data-localisation, Amazon has begun encouraging customers to comply with thorough encryption of data to beef up security. “We are partnering with the regulator so as to create an architectural blueprint for this data, and ensure that customers and regulators are on the same page,” said Vogels.
Incidentally, India isn’t the only market that will see a spurt in data centres post-localisation. The company is also launching data centres in Stockholm, Milan, South Africa, Bahrain and Hong Kong.
‘Making Machine Learning Accessible, Cost-Effective’
With machine learning and artificial intelligence the key focus areas at re:Invent 2018, Vogels confirmed that AWS will step on the gas, to make machine learning more cost-effective and accessible.
"We need to run machine learning models as cheaply as possible to make them more accessible,” he said, while pointing out that AWS has relied on economics of scale and advances in data centres to frequently slash prices of key machine learning services.
Incidentally, AWS launched ‘Elastic Inference’, at re:Invent, which it claims could reduce machine-learning costs by 75 percent. Andy Jassy, chief executive officer, AWS said that as on date, 90 percent of machine learning costs were by way of inference and not training
‘Great Time To Be An Online Streaming Portal’
Taking a cue from Netflix co-founder and chief executive officer, Reed Hastings, Vogels played down the competition between Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
“Netflix is doing a really great job — 75 percent of content watched by their audience is driven by their recommendations,” he said, “People let Netflix tell them what they should be watching, we are trying to do the same thing since we have a long history of recommendation engines.” Netflix, incidentally, is on the AWS platform.
“It’s a great time to be alive in this space. There is no single winner here; the customer is the winner. But the way you engage customers is what makes you win,” said Vogels, signing off.